There are times when I feel bad for the Rise Against fans who are hoping for Revolutions Per Minute: Part Two.
I say this due to the roadblock that critics and fans tend to place in front of the band – as they grow and develop, there’s this sort of lingering pedestal of nostalgia the group’s older music has been placed on. New music is never held in the same regards as the older, no matter the strides they make towards newer, cleaner sound.
Just because a punk band grows up and learns to play their instruments doesn’t make them insignificant, nor does a smoother sound mean they’re soft.
As “The Great Die-Off” begins with a brief violin introduction before a heavy drop, there’s a quick feeling of something new immediately erased by the old. This sticks around for a good portion of the record – balancing a sharper, more-melodic Rise Against with the raw intensity we’ve always been given from them.
Lead single “I Don’t Want to Be Here Anymore” fulfills the responsibilities of a first-released track, lending a performance that both satisfies and draws interest for more. The wait isn’t long, with follow-up “Tragedy + Time” being a stand-out of the album with a chorus that sits near the top of the band’s catalog.
While I may have condemned the RPM purists a bit before, there are definite moments where they’ll find pleasure on The Black Market. “The Eco-Terrorist In Me” is furious and fierce, a throwback to their earliest work now made better with a decade and a half of practice. Later, “Zero Visibility” makes a serious case as contender for my favorite song on the album. Instrumentally, it is extremely impressive and entertaining, with lengthy solos that we don’t see (on this scale) all too often. The group’s live show has always been one that captivates, and McIlrath’s ability to control their audiences will flourish if this makes its way onto upcoming setlists.
Songs like “Sudden Life” and “Methadone” (which features another stellar chorus dominated by McIlrath) find the group mixing tempos, shifting from calm introductions into harsher sounds. Earlier, the album’s title track could, at times, almost get sorted into pop-punk classification, thanks in-part to the sharp, punctuated guitar work that leads it in. Here, as well as the majority of the lyrics throughout the band’s career, McIlrath pours himself into it. “As a writer, I’ve always felt some responsibility to not just acknowledge the sadness of the human condition but to help people find a way out,” he says. “That’s where the whole Black Market idea came from – we’re trafficking these emotions, we’re living in them and it can be a dark place, but overall it’s a way for people to get over their hurt.”
It’s on “People Live Here” where the lyrics truly make their impact. Inspired heavily by the soaring presence of gun violence, McIlrath drew from his personal life to both challenge and chill himself lyrically. The boundary between art and real life is thin here. Having a daughter in kindergarten, McIlrath said he saw footage school tragedies and it wasn’t difficult to imagine his child as a part of it. As he sings “From the penthouse to the holy martyr, sea to shining sea / from the coffins full of kindergarteners / is this what you call free? / From the hate that drips from all your crosses, are your hands so clean? / There’s a wildfire and it’s spreading far / from sea to shining sea,” his fears are audible and his emotional message strong.
The Black Market is packed with the passion, emotion, grit, and nerve Rise Against has always had. Much like the albums that preceded it, the progressive move towards cleaner, clearer sound continues here. Much like the troubles that bands like Alkaline Trio face whenever new material is released, Rise Against seem to walk a constant tightrope. But, as a band whose “good enoughs” are still better than other’s bests, putting out work that still can impress is a very good sign.
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Check Out: “Tragedy + Time,” “Zero Visibility,” “People Live Here”
1. “The Great Die-Off”
2. “I Don’t Want to Be Here Anymore”
3. “Tragedy + Time”
4. “The Black Market”
5. “The Eco-Terrorist In Me”
6. “Sudden Life”
7. “A Beautiful Indifference”
9. “Zero Visibility”
10. “Awake Too Long”
11. “People Live Here”
Tim McIlrath – Vocals, guitar
Joe Principe – Bass
Brandon Barnes – Drums
Zach Blair – Guitar
Written by Eric Riley